Author Topic: Chapter 6  (Read 10714 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 6
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:31 AM »
Chapter 6

They walked underneath the palm trees for a bit, enjoying the sun and the sand before Petra steered them down towards the beach. It was usually too cold to swim at the beaches back home, but this water looked like it might be warm enough. Petra hadn't actually gone swimming in ocean water since she was a kid.

She hadn't counted on the trash littering the beach, though. There were plastic bottles and packaging materials all over the place. They couldn't walk five meters without coming across some new undegradable material sitting here or there. Based on how far up the beach they were strewn, it looked like it was low tide right now.

Petra gave Chuck a baleful glance. "Really? All the way out here in the Pacific?"

"Unfortunately," Chuck said, his gaze sweeping up ahead. "This is clean compared to the other side of the island. There's a massive drift of trash here in the South Pacific, and parts of it get washed in our direction. Some of us wanted to start cleaning it up, but we have to stay hidden, and that means even from environmentalists."

Reflecting sadly on that, Petra turned around and went back towards the retractable entrance with Chuck following closely behind. As depressing as the plastic buildup was, it provided a welcome change to her recent discoveries. "So in the past few days, I've learned a few mind-blowing things," she said, raising her hand and ticking off fingers one by one. "Finding out that immortality is possible. Finding out that teleportation, or interdimensional travel- whatever you want to call it, is possible. Finding out that there is nonhuman intelligence out there. That's quite a lot of food for thought!"

"You might want to leave room for dessert," Chuck said softly, and Petra came to a stop. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear any more, but gestured him to go on.

"You mentioned teleportation and you're right about that," Chuck went on, fishing something out of his pocket. "But Morty used his own power to bring you and Darius into his realm, and to send you back to earth. Getting you out to this island was done by this." He held up a small key. "Let's go back down and I'll demonstrate."

The concealed entrance was still open. Once they were inside Chuck typed in a command on the control pad, and there was a blinding flash again as the servos closed the door. From the outside, it must have looked as though there was nothing here. Chuck led the way down the hall, and then put the key into one of the storage room doors. Based on the door and number, it was similar to the room she'd woken up in.

"Try not to freak out," Chuck said, his tone halfway between concern and amusement as he turned the key and opened the door. Behind it was another hallway, just like the one they were in. Chuck removed the key, but stayed where he was.

Petra looked at him curiously. It was weird that they would have two identical hallways running parallel like this, but not scary. Chuck gave her a mischievous look and stepped through. Once on the other side he looked to his left, and said, "over here."

Petra heard his voice twice, actually. As if she was talking to someone in person and over the phone at the same time. The second voice was coming from her left. About three doors down.. was Chuck!

She looked between them rapidly, but they were the same person! The guy through the door was looking to his left, and the guy down the hall was looking right at her. "Good God!"

Now he was smiling openly. Or rather, both Chucks were. The one through the door reached back and closed it. At the same time, the other door closed as well. Now she could see only one Chuck, striding down the hall towards her.

"How did you do that?" Petra demanded, moving to meet him. He extended the key towards her and she took it, briefly wondering if it might be radioactive or something.

Chuck smiled again. "Magic. Here, you try it. Put the key into this door here," he pointed at yet another storage room. She did so hesitantly, and then he pointed down to the door he'd just left through. "As you turn the key, try to picture that door in your mind. Then just open it."

Not knowing quite what to expect, Petra tried to envision the other door before opening this one. They both opened simultaneously!

"This is.. unbelievable!" She leaned forward through the open door, looking to her left. As she moved ahead, she tried to keep a leg planted firmly on the ground, and soon she could see her own leg.. from behind!

"Yeah, it's pretty trippy," Chuck said lightly. "The key basically links the doors together, making them into one. The connection lasts for as long as the doors stay open. You want to take the key out before closing the door though. Otherwise if you go through, you might leave it behind and get stuck on the other side."

Petra backed up immediately, and tried to look casual as she removed the key and closed the door. Again, the other door closed at exactly the same time. She tried to think about the implications. "So, distance isn't even a factor? We're not talking going from door to door here. If I used this key and envisioned a door in, say, Belgium, I could go there??"

Chuck nodded. "Yup. You'd have to have been there before, to know what the door looks like, but otherwise yeah. This is how we get around. The Veil has facilities in every major city all around the world. The fades can travel almost at the speed of light, using power lines and internet cables to get around. The keys are how we keep up with them. Without this," he reached out and reverently took the key, "we'd be reduced to air travel like the rest of the world."

After examining this door and the one next to it briefly, Petra started thinking aloud. "If I use that, and connect two doors together, I can take the key out again and they'll still be connected?"

"That's right. The key will fit any door, skeleton-key style. You can even use it to get into a locked room, but you have to get there from another door, is all."

"But what if the two doors are different sizes? Or worse, what if someone connected to a door that was underwater, or.. in deep space?"

Chuck grimaced. "Thankfully we don't have any doors floating out in space or on the moon, but there was an incident using these keys back in the 30s. From what Darius said, some idiot newbie Veil agents flooded several buildings in London before the reservoir was low enough for them to close the door again. Apparently it was a drunken prank between them. We've kept a close watch on these keys ever since." He shrugged. "As for different door sizes, all Veil facilities have the exact same door dimensions on for that very reason. Still, if we're using other doors, we stay as far to the left bottom side when going through. It's the top and the right that get cut off if they're different sizes."

Petra looked at the key with a little more respect. "How did the Veil stay hidden after something as starting a flood in London?"

"Darius keeps connections with press and law enforcement all over the world. Fortunately the area was right next to the Thames river, so he spun it as a flash flood. Still, it was a near thing. We have a few dozen keys worldwide, and I even built two of them myself," he added proudly.

Suddenly Petra remembered Didi's tale of her father finally confronting Darius, and of his seemingly impossible escape. He must have had one of these keys. Anywhere with a door- even a bathroom or closet door- could be escaped as easily as walking! Or anywhere there was a door with a keyhole, anyway. "When you said magic, you meant that literally," Petra said softly.

Chuck nodded. "We're just called magicians," he put in, almost in the tone of an admission. "There have been a few of us working for the Veil in every generation. Darius planned it that way, in fact. Back in the old world before America was conquered, he was friends with some of the most powerful magicians out there. My order.. was actually founded by Merlin from Camelot. Or Myrddin as he was known back then. Apparently he and Darius were friends."

Despite the gravity of this new information, Petra had to smile at Chuck's attitude. The Americas had indeed been conquered, though most people living there thought of it as colonizing and taming the wilderness. Chuck's accent was vaguely southern, but his viewpoint was unusual for that area. The way he spoke of his order was definitely filled with pride. "Are you saying that Merlin of Camelot was a real person? Are you one of his descendants?"

Chuck gave an uncomfortable shrug. "..Maybe? They didn't exactly keep accurate genealogies back then. Some of his descendants were part of our order, at least."

"Wow. So magic is real." Petra shook her head. "You were right about leaving room for dessert. This definitely fits in with the other three." Her head spun briefly, and she leaned against the wall.

"I got you," Chuck reached out to her, and Petra let him help her briefly. "You don't need physical rest anymore, but your mind is processing a ton of new information, and that can be exhausting. I'll get you some glasses that can protect your new 'second sight', and then use the key to take you back home."

Petra only nodded, feeling a little better. "I take it I'll be coming back here regularly?"

"Probably. Your training will take a few months at least. Nick and I will be handling it mostly, but Darius will be dropping in from time to time as well."

Petra wanted to ask more about Darius specifically, but she yawned as she opened her mouth. It was probably best that she was going back. "At least you're taking me home with a normal-looking key. I've never had the ankles for ruby slippers."

Chuck gave her a wan look, and gestured around the halls. "This place might as well be in black-and-white anyway."

-.-

Almost a full day later, Petra knocked on Didi's front door. There was no response at first, so Petra knocked again.

She was wearing those special contact lenses Nick had given her after Chuck's initial glasses, and they seemed to be working. Getting them on had been a challenge, and keeping them in place had been both physically and mentally irritating. She'd wanted to wear the glasses instead, but she had no way of explaining them. Coming back to Vancouver had been like transporting herself to the surface of the sun. All electric lights had been twice as bright, each car shone like a spotlight, power lines left behind horizontal afterimages that seemed burned right into her eyeballs- Nick hadn't been kidding.

When Didi finally opened the door, her face transformed from worry and doubt into relief. "Oh thank God!" She rushed forward and embraced Petra, lifting her off the ground briefly. Surprised, Petra did her best to take it in stride. She'd only known the woman for a few days, most of which she'd been missing.

"I thought you were dead!" Didi said breathlessly, after letting her down, and then bringing her inside. "The police found me a few hours after we were taken, but they didn't have any idea where you were! They said a woman matching your description was brought into the ER, but then checked herself out again. I went to your place but there was no one there. I even filed a missing persons report two days ago!"

Petra smiled slightly. She should have known Didi would know where she lived. The older woman had done her research after they'd first met. "I'm sorry to just drop in like this. I would have called, but I don't actually have your number. And I'm fine. After I woke up in the hospital, I checked myself out like they said. I've been staying with a friend of sorts ever since, for my own protection. The Independent Soldiers might have wanted to go after me again, so it was safer that way." Technically true, if only barely scratching the surface of what had happened.

"It's fine," Didi assured her quickly. "You look well enough, considering what we've both been through. I'm a wreck: I keep expecting thugs with guns to show up at my door, even though the police promised to keep an officer out front to keep an eye on me. There he is," she pointed out a car down the street.

Didi insisted on taking Petra over there to clear up the missing-persons situation, and the officer promised to call it in and let his superiors know. After that, she brought Petra back inside for some tea.

"I've been trying to track down Darius again," she explained as she prepared it. "He vanished without a trace just after we were caught. His apartment is cleaned out, his bank accounts emptied. There hasn't been any sign of him at any airports, docks or bus stations, so he probably left by unlicensed boat. If so, he's somewhere in the Pacific right now."

She was probably right, but for the wrong reasons, and Petra was forbidden from explaining them. Before she'd been sent home, Nick and Chuck together had spoken with her, re-emphasizing the essential importance of keeping the Veil organization secret.

It was especially frustrating with Didi. She and her father had spent years tracking Darius' movements, without knowing that he could teleport all over the globe just by stepping through a door. The Halstaffs had made an impressive achievement, and one that would probably never be made public. Didi would never get credit for all her hard work.

"I did some checking on Lisbon, after what we heard at the battery factory," Didi went on unknowingly. "That Greed guy, whoever he was, said he lost seven people in a shoot-out. I looked up news reports and found seven people killed in a shooting six months ago, in the Lisbon's Avalade district. The police said it was gang-related, which fits with the Independent Soldiers. We heard Darius say he wasn't responsible, but clearly code-name-Greed thinks he was. I've got a friend in the PSP overseas who said he can get me the incident report in a few days."

Petra leaned back a bit. "You've got friends in Portugal's police force?"

"Well, more like a friend of a friend. One of the advantages of inheriting a ton of money is that over time you can cultivate relationships with Interpol. They're pretty handy when you need to investigate things happening overseas." She poured the tea slowly, and then went back into her evidence-wallpapered room. After a few more moments she unrolled a map on the kitchen table. "This is where it happened in the Avalade district. Thing is, there was a pretty big explosion just after the shooting stopped. It turned this warehouse here," she pointed to a red x drawn over one building, "into a smoking crater. The police recovered a few bodies from the wreckage, but they're assuming there are more still buried inside."

Petra realized she could probably get a lot more information from Kiri Atoll the next time she visited, and maybe fill in some of the blanks for her friend. If she could find a way to do it without compromising the Veil, anyway. Now she was starting to feel those restrictions Darius had mentioned back in the empty black dimension. "I'm glad to see you're still on task," she said, trying to get back on track.

Didi shook her head. "I have to be. I can't even think about what happened in that factory, or what might have happened." She put a hand to her head, where that thug had clocked her, and winced. "I'm lucky the police got a tip where I was. I still have no idea why they let you go. Did they just leave you for dead?"

"They probably assumed I wouldn't make it," Petra said truthfully. "Listen, I'm not giving up on the search. I'll stick with you, for what little I can do to help. If you'll have me."

After a few seconds Didi gave her a wavering smile, and reached out to squeeze her hand. Petra felt guilty about having to deceive the poor woman, but she had questions of her own concerning Darius. He still hadn't told her why he'd chosen her, or even spoken with her since their conversation with Morty. Besides, this way Petra might be able to protect Didi from the fades, as they continued the search.

Of course she'd have to figure out how to do that first. As they conversed over tea, Petra put that on the top of the priority list.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:46:58 AM by Daen »